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4 Leading Techniques to Design Personalized Apps

6 Min Read

Given the level of competition in the iOS and Android app stores, creating a unique and personalized experience for each individual user is becoming a meaningful differentiator for app creators. Personalization when implemented well, can help businesses achieve better user engagement, increase retention, and allow app owners to build a more individual relationship with their customers.

This guide is an introduction to design personalized apps. We introduce when, where, and how personalization can be used to create a better user experience for your customers. We touch upon audience segmentation, geolocation, and other features that your app can use to increase engagement. By combining these techniques with the latest and best app design techniques[1], you can ensure the survival of your app in the personalized era.

Before That: Should You Choose To Personalize?

Building a personalized experience for your users has numerous benefits for you as an app owner. However, before solving their problems, you should always start by interviewing your customers, creating personas, and coming to a well-honed understanding the goals and frustrations of users[2]. Customization can be costly and time-consuming, and should never be an approach you always default to. That said, personalization helps you to match customer needs that would otherwise be impossible without sacrificing usability, learnability, and the emotional need that your users will have for your app. Personalization also pushes you to review what is important about your app for your users – and what is not.

How Do I Personalize My Mobile App Experience?

The differences between personalized and non-personalized designs lie primarily in the organization of your user interface and the customer contact touch points. A non-personalized UX/UI design delivers the same experience for all users, regardless of any data that the app may have about user preferences and activities.

Personalized experiences delve deeper into a user’s mind. Screens are unique, customized, and tailored to each user’s individual needs and preferences. Designs often offer different sets of features, depending on the user’s activity, history, location, and previous activity in the app. Other customizations can also include personalized ads, offers, and push notifications.

Personalization of User Experience in Fitness Apps
Image Source[1]

Anticipatory Design

Anticipatory design is an approach to design whereby you look to solve a user’s needs before they even realize they have them themselves. A successful anticipatory design makes a user feel more at home within your app, like it is “just right” for them by giving them what they want and when they want it in a clear and intuitive way. Clearly, users are more prone to stay with your app when their needs are met with little or no friction.

In the below examples, Google sends appropriate notifications depending on your location and time of day, giving you valuable information about weather, traffic, and events even before you think of needing it.

personalized user notifications in Google now
Image Source[2]

Segmenting Your App Users

Customization is simply guesswork if you can’t intelligently segment your audience by using real user data. A user’s history, the date and time, level of engagement, location, friends, followers, and a host of other data can be used to build a profile of each user from which you can segment and implement unique functionality and UI design flows.

The main aim of user segmentation is to group various categories of users you might have. For example, younger users visiting a new city might want to learn about the latest drinking spots and trendy nightclubs. Meanwhile, older adults might prefer updated information about a nice, quiet restaurant with a price-conscious midweek menu. Obviously, the segmentation and solutions you come up with will be unique to your own app and give direction to your personalization efforts.

how to personalize customer segments in apps
Image Source[3]

Segmentation should also define what success means within the context of your app. You must be able to measure whether users take the actions you expected them to or not. Examples include clicking ads, buying products, and other activities. With the right data and the right model of what you expect your users to do, you can check what kinds of engagements work for each segment.

When implemented, your tracking data and analytics will allow you to see which personalization options like geolocation, notifications, or social proof give your app a more individually satisfying experience to each customer.

1 Geolocation and Targeting

Geolocation – that is, being able to tell where a user is and provide content that is location-specific – is a common approach to meeting your user’s needs. This customization is especially relevant to users who wish to access local services, for example, apps for shopping for groceries, eating out, or discovering live music events. Products that use it include taxi services like Uber and meal delivery services like Deliveroo.

Combining Geolocation with other user data – for example, a search history for Chinese restaurants – allows you to handpick important events you know each user will find relevant and interesting – like sending out a notification with a rating for a restaurant if the user is at a time they normally eat, and they are passing by a particular restaurant.

2 User Progress Milestones

Creating milestones for users to achieve creates a sense of achievement, while providing rewards can push users to increase their engagement. As a result, app users will end up taking actions that benefit you as an owner, for example, purchasing products or booking a ticket for an event you are promoting. Good examples include airline frequent flyer miles, shopping rewards cards and unlocking content, based on user progress on your app.

personalized rewards based on shopping behaviour
Image Source[4]

Progress milestones also improve usability by allowing you to keep things simple for beginners while unlocking advanced content later for hardcore users. Many games and gamification techniques fall into this category of customization.

3 Customized Content

Animations, videos, images, and content can all be uniquely chosen for your users, based on information about them. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all leverage this approach, by using your history of likes and shares to curate a feed that is more interesting to you personally. Try clicking “Like” a few times on a certain person’s posts and that person is guaranteed to appear at the top of your feed the next time you sign in. The core rule here for personalization is: If the user likes doing something in your app, give them more opportunities to take similar actions the next time they sign in. Taking an action like “like,” “share,” or “upvote” is a clear signal that they value your app for that purpose.

4 Communicating what your friends have done

“Your friend Dave also likes this company or product” and “Your friend Dave visited here 3 months ago” – how often do you see notifications like this on sites like Facebook, Yelp, or TripAdvisor? By connecting your experience with other people you know and trust, apps can create a level of trust based on the recommendations of other people you know.


We are living in the era of personalized apps. Attention spans are short, and competition is everywhere. Finding the right combination of personalizations and optimizing it through repeated analysis of your data and a deep understanding of potential personalisation will help you create solutions that are best in class.

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Shanaz Khan from VWO

Hi, I am Shanaz from the VWO Research Desk.

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